- Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie
- Written & Directed by
- M. Night Shyamalan
- Run Time
- 1 hr 48 min
- Release Date
- July 23rd, 2021
Some words about my relationship with the films of M. Night Shyamalan. I tend to put him the same echelon of filmmakers that were inspired by Steven Spielberg. People like Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard and J.J. Abrams. Despite his last few films Zemeckis gets a permanent pass, because he did Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Contact. Howard: Willow, Backdraft, and Apollo 13. Abrams: Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, and Super 8. Yet you look at those directors recent films that all are no where near the caliber of their earlier work. And that is never to say that they should give up, it’s over, you peaked, because you can look at their inspiration: Spielberg, and see that even his last few films BFG, The Post and Ready Player One couldn’t rise to the levels of Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan.
Which brings us to Shyamalan. In my mind he got a running start with Wide Awake and burst through the gate with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and even The Village (which I showed to my kids recently and it really is a lot better than I remembered). It does feel like he began to believe his own press about doing no wrong and the always unfair label of “the next Spielberg” which all the filmmakers mentioned above were accused of being as their career began. Looking at all these filmographies, even Spielberg can’t live up to Spielberg every time. So from 2006 to 2013 when Shyamalan just couldn’t make it happen on the big screen, he stepped back a bit and went small and creepy with The Visit in 2015. And a year later completely floored me with the ending of Split, something he had not successfully done since 1999. He stumbled a bit again with Glass, but I will still watch anything he decides to make.
His latest is Old, where a group of vacationers meet on a secluded beach and mysteriously begin to age rapidly. The core family consists of Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) as mom and dad, and kids Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton). The rest of the beachgoers include Rufus Sewell as a doctor with his wife played by Abbey Lee, another couple played by Nikki Amuka-Bird and Ken Leung and rounding out the cast, Aaron Pierre as Mid-Sized Sedan (don’t ask). We see initial set ups that in almost any movie but for sure in a Shyamalan one always pay off as they arrive at a resort and we see that mom and dad are not getting along and keeping a secret from the kids. But once we reach the beach and the aging ramps up and everyone starts to freak out the movie is at it’s best.
Unfortunately what immediately kills it is what I call the “Shyamalan Speak”. You see it in all his films and it has become an over reliance to expel exposition. In something like Unbreakable it was Samuel L. Jackson in his off-kilter manner of speech that told the audience what was happening in case you were lost or unsure what you should be paying attention to. And I liked it and felt it fit in that film. Here 20 years later with Old we get EVERY character at EVERY age they become, spouting whatever they are thinking and in some cases, saying what they are doing as they are doing it. Most of the actors try their best to make what they are given to say some weight, but it can’t help but come off as silly. So often it is completely unnatural at the same time funny when it probably wasn’t meant to be. Even though Shyamalan calls it his “cadence”, it’s just bad writing. Screenwriting 101 is “show, don’t tell” and yes some filmmakers don’t follow that and at times up and break this rule with varying degrees of success. In ’81 we saw Indiana Jones tell us the history of the Ark of the Covenant using chalk and a really big book. Given todays technology and budgets, we would see an expensive flashback to biblical times as the Ark magically levels mountains. Shyamalan has access to such tools when making a studio film, even in a film that’s set mostly in one location, he has the resources to show tons and say very little. Some may argue that that is more terrifying, it certainly works in a lot of modern horror. He just chooses not to.
Old though is not a rated R horror film, even if the best scenes in the film are when truly horrific things occur on screen. That is also one the praises/criticisms I can give it, Shyamalan still knows how to shoot a movie, and with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis who has some sold films to his credit, can’t help but get ensnared in Shyamalan’s “look at all the things I can do with a camera” mode. There are times when this movie is really moving and I am eager to see where it goes, but times nearing the end, I could care less about what the outcome or what the underlying message is.
If Shyamalan still draws inspiration from Spielberg, maybe he should take a lesson from his career. In over a 40 year span he’s only written a few of his own films. He’s trusted others who make it their mission to write interesting and thrilling scripts so this incredible filmmaker could bring them to life. I believe Shyamalan would really benefit from that kind of relationship, he is still a great filmmaker, and has good stories to tell, he just needs to learn to open himself to new ways of collaborating, before he gets too…well, ya know.